My sister told me she would sometimes wake in the middle of the night and worry that I was lying in a pool of my own blood. My parents spent many longs days and sleepless nights worried about my safety. After my ordeal, my father read my book, Knight in Tarnished Armor, and it gave him nightmares. People that I had considered “friends” completely dropped out of my life when I finally was able to open up and started telling them about my abusive husband. At first, it made me wish I had kept it to myself, but when it was all over, it was ok. I was surrounded by my “real” friends, who stuck with me.
Domestic violence changes the landscape of lives. It effects not only the household where the abuse is taking place, but relationships with family and friends – it’s the pebble-in-the-pond ripple effect. It strains some relationships and destroys others. Others it makes stronger. It causes friends and family to take sides…are they for the abuser or the abused? It blinds family to the abuser’s actions and frustrates the victim’s family because they see what is happening and feel helpless. They wonder why the victim doesn’t leave (that is another huge topic for later) and get frustrated with the situation.
Family gatherings can be awkward. The abuser’s family will usually put the blame on the victim, which add to what they are dealing with already; being abused, trying to keep the children safe, trying to keep their life together. And the victim’s family many time witnesses verbal and emotional abuse, if not physical, and feel like their hands are tied. They, in turn, may try to talk the victim into leaving or taking some kind of action that they are just not ready or willing to take, which puts even more pressure on the victim.
Then there are social activities. Can you imagine standing beside your abuser at a social function when an hour earlier that person had just twisted your arm, shouted obscenities in your face or threatened to kill you? You must carry on as if nothing happened, looking at your abuser with admiration, pretending to be the perfect couple, but terrified that when you return home that evening, he will continue the beatings or carry out his threat to end your life. Keeping up the façade of a normal relationship is exhausting. Smiling and being gracious, while trembling inside. Once these acquaintances find out the truth, who will turn their back on the victim? Who will side with the abuser? How will your fellow church members, club members or the parents of the children that play soccer with yours, look at you now? How will your coworkers act when you tell them that it wasn’t the flu that kept you home, it was a bruised rib?
Sometimes friends and family provide a place for the victim, and the children if there are any, to stay if they need to flee their home. This is a good and necessary thing for the victim, but many times it puts the family member or the friend in danger also. If the abuser should come after the victim they are sheltering, they may get caught in the crossfire…. literally and figuratively.
They may provide money, support, transportation, child care, whatever the victim needs and so, more and more people are involved because of one controlling abuser. It disrupts so many lives, interferes with plans, causes worry and concern, destroys hopes and dreams…all because of one controlling abuser. The actions of one person can tear at the cords that bind us in our relationships with family and friends and can destroy friendships and family ties.
The children’s friends may not feel comfortable visiting to play if the house is always in an uproar, the abuser targets the children or there is an undercurrent of tension. They may witness behavior that they aren’t familiar with and that makes them uncomfortable. If they talk about that at school or in general with other children, it may cause problems for the child of the victim. When the abuser’s children visit their friends and see that not all parents fight, not all households are “walking on eggshells” they may begin to wonder why the victim doesn’t try to make changes. That may cause the child to blame the victim for not stopping the abuse.
So, as the ripples spread wider and wider, children, family and friends are involved and in the next part of this series, we will spread out even further into the community to see how one person’s actions can have such a far-reaching effect on so many people.